New puppy ownership sounds exciting but it doesn't come without a few rough patches. Separation anxiety and excessive barking are two of the biggest banes of pet parenting and they can often go hand in hand.
But before your dog's barking drives you (and probably your neighbors) crazy, there are a few techniques you can try to settle your dog down and channel their energy in a more positive way than barking.
Why do dogs bark?
Before we dive into the "how" of stopping barking, we need to look at the "why" of why they're barking in the first place. There are lots of reasons dogs might bark from play to defense, but in the case of excessive barking at home it's most often separation anxiety. You can actually listen and tell the difference between types of barks. Play barks are more short and high pitched, defensive barks are in loud fast bursts, and bored and anxious barks are monotone and repetitive. Treating your dog's barking starts by understanding exactly what type of barking he's doing.
What not to do
Just as there are some great ways to treat barking, there are definite ways NOT to treat it. Because frustration and boredom are often at the heart of incessant barking, scolding your dog simply won't do anything. Agitation won't be fixed with more agitation, so try to speak to your dog in a soothing voice and not let your anger over the situation get the best of you.
Give your dog mental and physical challenges
An idle dog can be a bad thing, and one of the best ways to keep your dog out of trouble is simply to keep them busy. Lots of time barking can be a sign of pent-up energy that has no other way to get out. The good news is there are lots of products to help you do this and even DIYs you can make that will engage your dog's brain and body. Here are a few ideas you can start with without dropping a dime:
- Hide treats around your home and let your dog discover them through the day as a sort of hunting.
- Cut small holes in a 2 liter bottle and fill with kibble or treats. Let your dog roll and push the bottle around until they've been able to release the treats.
- Freeze toys and healthy treats into a bowl and then empty out the frozen block for your dog to work on through the day.
If you're not a do-it-yourselfer there are plenty of off the shelf options such as:
- Kong - this classic dog toy can be filled with treats or peanut butter and give your dog something to focus on.
- Pet puzzles - there are several brands to choose from, but these puzzles require I dog to flip, slide, and move things in order to reach treats.
Tire your dog out
As pet parents we already work hard and tire ourselves out everyday, it's a major ask for us to use extra energy just to tire out our dogs, so try to find ways you can make your dog's existing exercise more strenuous. Here are a few ways you can turn up the volume on everyday physical activities.
- Add a backpack as part of your dog's walking uniform. In addition to giving you some extra storage space for granola bars and treats, it gives the dog extra weight to carry and helps to mentally put them in a state of doing a job. This is particularly great for big breeds like retrievers and pit bulls.
- You can teach your old dog new tricks! Add clicker or treat training to your routine to mentally stimulate your dog. Physical activity isn't enough to really wear a dog out, but having to listen to commands and perform will help to tire them.
- Introduce agility training to your pet. Particularly for high energy herding breeds like corgis or border collies, agility training can help them tap some of the natural skills they were bred for.
Make your home dog friendly
Besides boredom and frustration, one of the major reasons dog's bark is territorial. To you it's just the mailman, but to your dog it's a vicious robber there to attack their master. You can't stop receiving your mail, but there are lots of things you can do to desensitize your pet and make your home a haven away from external stimulus.
First, rather than trying to bend the dog to the environment, bend the environment to the dog. Here are a list of small changes you can make in your home that will help soothe your pet.
- From squirrels to neighbors, movement outside can be a trigger for your pet. Invest in shades that block your dog's view to the outside, or channel your dog toward window views where there is less stimulus passing by. Don't want to block your light? Invest in frosted windows that let light in but keep the movement from outside out.
- Physical stimulus isn't the only thing that can rile a dog up to start barking. Loud noises or mysterious sounds can all cause a dog to start barking. White noise can be a great way to calm a dog down and drown out outside noises. Try leaving a radio on a soothing station, or turning on a loud fan. Besides drowning out the noise, you can look at ways to muffle it like putting a draft blocker under the door, or investing in more solid doors that aren't hollow core.
Train your dog not to bark
Although easier said than done, you can slowly but surely train your dog away from barking or at least desensitize him to the stimulus. Below are a few ways you can start to train for barking, but remember that it's important to be extremely consistent with your pet.
- Ignore the barking and force your dog to realize that he will not be rewarded with attention for it. When he stops barking, reward him with a treat, and continue to stretch out the amount of time it takes before a treat is given. To keep it interesting for your pet, vary the amount of time from 5 to 40 minutes.
- If things like other dogs or people are your pet's trigger, have a friend with a dog stand far enough away that your dog isn't compelled to bark, then slowly move towards your pet while you feed him treats. If the barking begins discontinue the treats. Continue this exercise until the person and dog can walk by without causing barking.
Bark collars and other gadgets
Bark collars are a contentious in the pet community. When a dog barks, these collars deliver a shot of citronella or a small shock. The problem with this though is that it doesn't give any positive reinforcement when the dog is behaving, nor does it address the underlying problem of the dog being bored and having pent-up energy. Doggy cameras like the Petcube Play let you not only know when your dog is barking, but let you correct it using the two-way audio, and distract it using the laser pointer. A pet cam can be a great way to stay on top of barking even when you can't be around to stop it.
Most importantly through all of these techniques, you have to remember that you are the boss and the pack leader and your dog is looking for strong leadership. Be firm with your dog in training, and do what you can to minimize external elements that aggravate the problem.
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